St Kilda - Western Isles - Outer Hebrides
This group of Hebridean islands are the most remote in the British Isles, being 40 miles from the nearest land. It can be seen from the Sounds of Harris and also from near the Isle of Pabbay which is near to the Isle of Lewis and also from Barra.
St Kilda - Astonishing Sea Stacks & Cliffs
St Kilda has astonishing cliffs and sea stacs, where there is the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe.
Village of St Kilda
The village , or the remains of a village, is of great historical value. You can see restored cottages, church and the school where the St Kildans resided until their evacuation in 1930.
|What Remains Now of St Kilda - Hirta
What remains there now are the ruins of both their original houses, mainly blackhouse type houses, alongside slightly newer houses which had been built for them in the later years. The layout of the 19th-century village remains to this day, and over 1,400 stone-built Cleit for storing food and fuel are scattered all over the islands, and even on the sea stacs
Story of the St Kildans
It is a fascinating story, the life of the St Kildans, a village people so remote from the mainland, who led a really simple, some would say primitive existence, only seeing other peoples very infrequently, when either their landlords, who at one time were from the Isle of Sky, sent the factor to collect their "rents" or indeed when various ministers and schoolteachers were sent to the island.
Occasionally too, boats from the mainland visited and "bought and traded" their wares to and from the islanders. The villagers had such a hard life, in brief, they lived and survived off just what they could obtain from the island and the smaller few islands that make up the group of St Kilda islands.
In 1726 a St Kildan visited Harris, caught smallpox there, and died from it. His clothes were returned to St Kilda in 1727, and brought the disease with them. Most of the islanders died, only 1 adult and 18 children survived the outbreak. However, 3 men and 8 boys escaped the disease as they had been left on Stac an Armin to collect gannets. The disease spread while they were there and nobody could go to fetch them. They were eventually rescued by the Steward 9 months later. The owner of St Kilda had to send people from Harris to repopulate St Kilda.
Before I begin to tell you about this wonderful trip, I will just say for any others who may be thinking of doing such a trip, that we give all praise to Seatrek and the two staff members who took us out in the boat.
The two staff members were both brilliant and really did go the extra mile to make the trip memorable.
As we were so fortunate in that the weather was lovely, full beaming sun, when the visit to the St Kilda village had been completed, and we visited the awesome rock stacks with the bird colonies, the Seatrek staff arranged that we spent at least an extra hour or so than was on the schedule at the sea stacks. As we were all having such a great time, and no one had a want for the trip to end, we enjoyed the extra time.
So a big thank you to Sea trek staff!
Amazing trip with Seatrek - July 2013
Village Street - St Kilda
Summary of St Kilda Islands and the Earlier Residents
Many of you may not have heard or read about St Kilda, to really understand what you are seeing on the island, I think you really need to have read at least a few articles on the amazing history of the islands and the past residents.
St Kilda - All That Remains
Above Sea After Volcano 60 million Years Ago
This group of islands are all that remains above the sea of a large volcano thought to have been active 60 million years ago. The underlying rocks which are granite, gabbro and dolerite, have been eroded by ice, rain and sea to form an impressive coastline of the four main islands and offshore stacs. Stac an Armin, being 191 metres is the highest sea stac in the British Isles
In brief to summarise, St Kilda is a group of islands, though most people when quoting St Kilda, really mean the largest island where the actual village was, that called Hirta.
Hirta was occupied for many thousands of years by various residents and there were many traditions handed down the generations, traditions influenced by monks, viking sailors, medieval rulers and landowners.
In later times though there were actually very few residents left and in 1930 the very last remaining villages asked the government to evacuate them to the mainland as life there was no longer sustainable. By this time there were only 30 residents left. It was a very sad occasion when they left the St Kilda village behind.
Sea Loch Seen Along the Walk
Soay Sheep on Hirta - St Kilda
View From a St Kilda Old House Window
Fuel was the hardest thing to acquire for the St Kildans, whilst there was some peat on the island, it was only in a few spots and was too far away for the islanders to carry. They dried turf in special narrow houses built specially for this purpose.
Remotest Islands in the British Isles
This group of islands are the most remote in the British Isles, being 40 miles from the nearest land. It can be seen from the Sounds of Harris and also from near the Isle of Pabbay which is near to the Isle of Lewis and also from Barra. St Kilda has astonishing cliffs and sea stacs, where there is the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe.
World Heritage Site - St Kilda
St Kilda is a world heritage site, there are three organisations that work together to protect and care for and conserve the site. These are The National Trust for Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the MoD, St Kilda is one of only 24 global locations which has been awarded 'mixed' World Heritage Status for its natural and cultural significance.
History of St Kilda and the St Kildans
The history of the site and the history of the St Kildans tells a fascinating story which captures the interest and imagination of many people for many years. The way of life that the St Kildans lived, was very harsh and thee villagers had much to be proud of, though their story is at times somewhat sad. The last of the villagers was evacuated to the mainland in the 1930.
The Name St Kilda - Derivation
The name St Kilda, actually does not derive from there being a "Saint Kilda" The main island was called" Hirte" or "Hirta" . A a map was published in 1540 which detailed the name St Kilda, but it was given for another island near Lewis, however in 1592 it was used for the St Kilda archipelago consisting of five islands, Hirta, Soay, Boreray, Dun and Levenish. There are also two very large rocks or sea stacks Stac an Armin and Stac Lee.
The St Kilda Village - Great Historical Interest
The village , or the remains of a village, is of great historical value and you can see restored cottages, the church and the school where the St Kildan residents lived until their evacuation in 1930.ere are several species of dolphins that can be seen around the Western Isles. Exactly what kind of houses the very early St Kildans lived in isn't known for certain, however there are remains of blackhouses and early stone structures. The village as its is today, was laid out by a minister in the 1830's, a kind of half moon shaped long street of house sand their small cultivation plots of land next to each house
Meadow Pipit Seen on Hirta - St Kilda
World War 1 - Hirta - shelled by German submarine
Early in World War I the Royal Navy erected a signal station on Hirta, and daily communications with the mainland were established for the first time in St Kilda's history. In a belated response, the German submarine SM U-90 arrived in Village Bay on the morning of 15 May 1918 and, after issuing a warning, started shelling the island.
Seventy-two shells were fired, and the wireless station was destroyed. The manse, church & jetty storehouse were damaged, but no loss of life occurred. As a result of this attack, a 4-inch Mark III QF gun was erected on a promontory overlooking Village Bay, but it never saw military use.
Food - Fulmars - Gannets - Puffins
The main source of food was gained from the actual birds, the gannets & fulmars being the two main birds, but the St Kildans also ate puffins.
They went to amazing feats of agility to obtain the young birds, climbing the rock stacks barefoot, carrying their spoils on their backs to the small boats which they used & back to Hirta.
The birds eggs provide a much needed fresh food in the summer months, the gannets, fulmars were harvested each season to be plucked, dried & stored for the next winter.
It was around 1860 when they were visited by ornithologists who suggested to the St Kildans that there was money to be made from actually selling birds eggs, especially the fulmars of which there weren't any in Great Britain that the islanders began to do this also.
The feathers & oil were kept for export and helped pay their rent, the bones were shaped & used as implements and tools, the skins were used for shoes.
They also grew what crops they could, barley and the like and either used the crops and like the birds these provided either food, fodder or they were traded to the mainlanders as rent or exchanged for various necessary items.
Being that the stacks were the highest in the UK - 400 metres in height and in some places are almost vertical, this really was a feat! I have detailed a few facts below about the Island and its people, and made this page using the photographs we took during the trip. In 1912 after a really sever winter there was a great shortage of food
Teachers Desk at the Schoolroom- Hirta
4inch Mark111 QG Military Gun at St Kilda
A Cleit on Hirta - St Kilda - Used for Storage Purposes
Gannets Nesting on The Stacs at St Kilda
Ruins in Front of the Bay at Hirta - St Kilda
Hirta - The St Kilda Church
Highest Cliffs in the UK
St Kilda has the highest cliffs in the Uk, being 400 metres high, also the highest underwater cliffs which support incredible sea life. with caves and caverns an underwater spectacle. The stacs that are part of the St Kilda archipelago are incredible. The main stacs area) Stac an Armin, Stac Lee and of course the lovely island nearby of Boreray.
Stac an Armin.
Stac an Armin is a sea stack in the St Kilda archipelago, and is 196 metres in height. It is the highest sea stack in Scotland and The British Isles.
The name Stac an Armin means stack of the soldier/warrior.
The St Kildans didn't actually stay on the stac, but visited to harvest the birds and their eggs and it is thought that there were occasions when because of the weather, they were forced to remain on the stac overnight until the weather cleared and the sea was calm enough to travel back to St Kilda. The St Kildans climbed barefoot or with thick socks on and used ropes made of horsehair. Stac an Armin a quarter of a mile north of Boreray and also quite near to Stac Lee
Stac Lee (Gaelic Stac Li)
Stac Lee is 172-metre-high and is home to the worlds largest colony of Northern Gannets. It is four miles North East of Hirta. Seen from the south, the rock appears as an imposing cliff as broad as high, while from the west it has the aspect of a thin needle with a top bevelled at an angle of 45°. The most impressive view is that obtained from the south-east, from where Stac Lee looks like a giant hook. This stac is also home to fulmars and kittiwakes
Boreray island reaches 384metres in height. Boreray is the smallest of the Scottish islands to have a summit over one thousand feet. On Boreray there are three small bothies which the St Kildans regularly used when they did their fowling expeditions.
When in 1724 there was an outbreak of smallpox, three men and eight boys were marooned on Boreray until the following May. It is said that there are 130 different flowering plants on the island. Long ago also there were a primitive variety of sheep called "Boreray" sheep.
Stac Lee at St Kilda - Western isles
The Village Street - Hirta - St Kilda
Pulpit in the St Kilda - Hirta Church
Boreray - St Kilda - Hebrides
The Church Bell
The bell that the St Kildans used for some years had quite a story to it, a ship the SS Janet Gowan built in Quebec and registered in Greenock was wrecked on St Kilda in 1864
On a voyage - Calcutta to Dundee
The Ship had been on a voyage from Calcutta to Dundee with a cargo of jute. After a month the ships captain decided to set off for the mainland using one of the ships small boats that had survived and a small boat that the St Kildans leant him.
The ships boat proved to be unsuitable and the crew cut that boat loose and used the St Kildan boat.
Bell From the Wreck Used for 60 Years
They eventually made it to the West coast of Harris and then on to Tarbert, where they left the boat and returned back via Stornoway to Greenock.
Some months later the St Kildans received a consignment of meal and flour and 9 pounds being to cover the St Kildans cost in getting their boat returned from Harris to St Kilda and the loan thereof.
The bell from the wreck was used by the St Kildans for over 60 years, the replacement for the old bell was gifted by W.M.Hume & Co Ltd - Greenock as the original bell disappeared at the time of the evacuation
The Schoolroom was part of the church and was completed in 1899.
The church was renovated in 1899 and the schoolroom was finished, in 1938 it was describes as having two desks, sheet of linoleum used as a blackboard, a calendar for 1930 and a map showing England but not Scotland!
Prior to the schoolroom., there had been several "schools" or at least teachings that were either carried out in the church itself or in peoples houses.
In 1860 each family was said to be well off, keeping 1 or two cows or a few sheep, along with a common stock of sheep.
No Thieving and Only 1 Illegitimate Child
There was no thieving and there was only one illegitimate child in the last twenty years.
There were family prayers in every house, each day, the children reading the Gaelic bible, the people were said to be very clean, however their houses were not very good at all, with no exit for the smoke and soot which was three inches thick at least.
Actually the soot was used in manure and each year the black straw from inside of the roof was removed and fresh straw laid inside.
Its not clear at all when the first settlers arrived at St Kilda, but tools found on Hirta do suggest that Bronze age travellers were there 4000 - 5000 years ago
Each tenant would have had their own portion of land, which could have been anywhere on the island, but these land apportionments were reallocated annually until in the 1830,s there were agricultural reforms which resulted in each tenant would have had his own strip of land on which he built his own house.
Birds - Sea Breeding and Fowling
The St Kildans took gannets, fulmars and puffins which were used for food as well as some going towards paying their rent.
The breeding season bering March to September, this was the time when the islanders caught the birds, by hand or with a fowling rod.
The world's largest colony of gannets nests on Boreray and the sea stacs and St Kilda also has the British Isles largest colony of fulmars.
Way of Life - Religion - Houses
There were no roads and the St Kildans carried all their produce, birds, or grain etc on their backs.
They went from island to island in small open boats. The produce was landed precariously on the rocks right up until 1901 when a small jetty was built.
In the 1600's it is recorded that the St Kildans who spoke Gaelic, were really quite a lively bunch and loved music, singing and dancing, they were originally Catholics as many Catholic priests visited and stayed for different periods on the island.
Free Church - Tokens for Communion
As time went on and different ministers came and went, the St Kildans became supporters of the Free Church of Scotland which meant that they had a more quiet sedate life as frivolity was not part of the Free Churches teachings at all.
In the 18th century ministers were sent to the island and a church was built in the nineteenth century, along with a school in 1884. From the seventeenth century tokens were issued to parishioners as a sign that they were fit people to receive communion.
1690 - Population of 180 who rented the land 1690 a population of around 180 has been recorded, these people rented the land from a landlord from the Island of Skye, a Macleod. from Dunvegan.
Until the 19th century, the rents that were actually paid would have been the produce from the island, which the landlord would then have sold on. The factor who collected these payments would have in turn given the islanders some much needed goods in return. The islanders would have given the factor barley, oats, fish, produce from their cattle, sheep, and especially seabirds
In 1697 the population is reputed to have been 180
In 1834 there were 93 inhabitants of twenty one families
In 1852 about a third of the population emigrated to Australia.
In 1860 it was said that the eldest lady on the island was sixty, although there seems to be some dispute about this
Landing on Hirta - St Kilda
In 1860 the only means of landing on S Kilda or Hirta, would be to clear out an indentation amongst the rocks ( currently filled with large stones), erect a crane on the cliff above only 30ft high, and hoist up the boats, a committee of the Agricultural Society were involved with this project and it was agreed that £100 be set aside for this
Soay Sheep lived on the Island of Soay, these sheep lived as feral animals and belonged to the owner of the island. The Soay sheep are believed to have been the remnants of the earliest sheep to have been kept in Europe
The Soay sheep are usually small, brown, with white bellies and short tails and their fleeces moult on their own naturally. Quite a few Soay sheep live on St Kilda, after the evacuation of the villages they were transferred to Hirta. These sheep have survived and are from really primitive breeds which date back to the Bronze age.
As a part of an ongoing survey and with the onset of DNA technology, it has been possible to tell which rams have fathered which lambs each year. It's usual that a Soay ram would only father one or two lambs however it has been proved that one ram actually fathered detailed as "Old Green 23" had fathered 27 lambs!
Mice - the St Kilda mouse
There were two types of mouse on St Kilda, the field mouse and the St Kilda house mouse and both of these were much larger than those on the mainland. They are sub species maybe brought in the Viking times by Norsemen. The house mouse is now extinct but the St Kildan field mouse still remains.
Daily Meeting - Parliament
The St Kildans days always began with a daily 'Parliament', a meeting held in the street every morning after prayers. All the adults males in the village went to this meeting, and helped to decide upon the day's activities. No one led the meeting, and all men had the right to speak.
The St Kildan Wren
This lovely bird is also a sub species of the wrens and is somewhat larger than other wrens. It is detailed now that there are believed to be around 115 pairs left on Hirta. The St Kilda wren is less streaked than the mainland
Ness - Isle of Lewis - Folklore or Fact?
It is said that the people of Ness used to say to their children if they were misbehaving " I wish you were in Hirta, I'll put you on a cows back and send you there"
There are many many cleits all over the St Kilda island, these were used for storage. These are turf covered dry stone walled storage buildings. The wind was able to pass through the walls, keeping the items stored cool and dry, the cleits situated near the houses would have been primarily used to store the seabirds and the eggs, that were the mainstay of the St Kilda diet
Lady Grange and Her Cleit - Fact or Fiction
Lady Grange was the wife of the Scottish Lord Advocate, however they separated in 1730. She spread rumours that he was a Jacobite sympathiser, and generally made a nuisance of herself.
She was imprisoned by him on North Uist, then was exiled to St Kilda in 1734. Eventually, she managed to alert friends to her circumstances, and they tried to rescue her. This was unsuccessful and she was removed to Skye where she died in 1742.A large cleit in the Village meadows is traditionally said to be the house where she was held prisoner, but is this story true or just a tale?
Rumour or stories have it that young men of St Kilda, before they could marry, had to prove they were able to provide for a family by climbing the rocks to catch birds for food. They had to balance on their left foot over the edge of a large protruding rock, place their right foot in front, bend down and make a fist over their feet. This balancing act was proof of their agility on the rocks. Two rocky outcrops are associated with the legend, these are – the Lover's Stone and the Mistress Stone.
The Schoolchildren of Hirta - St Kilda
View between the St Kilda Houses